In order for a painting to work it must be successful of several layers:
The first layer is the layer of design - the composition
The second layer is drawing
The third -value
The fourth- color
The fifth -subject
As artists we find ourselves juggling multiple tasks at once. I often picture the performer on stage spinning a plate balanced on a stick, going on to spin another and another while going back to keep that first one spinning.
Back to the first layer- composition. A strong design is the very foundation of a good painting. No other factor effects the successful outcome. The two most important components of a composition are:
Here is one of the most useful shapes in design, it's no wonder the arrow is used in many public areas to direct the flow of traffic or people. It gives a definite guide as to which way to go, or in the case of a painting composition, which way to look.
To the right is a painting by John Singer Sargent, a master of composition among other things.
The image below shows how the arrow shape has been used to lead the eye around the painting. The most contrast at the lower edge plus the arrow shape leads the eye up the arm, around the head and down to the dog. An upwards arrow at the bottom left leads back into the image.
Look at two more of Sargent's paintings below-
On the left see the large triangular shapes that push your eye upwards toward the man's face, than off into the distance, downward and again upward. The portrait of the woman has a great deal of static tension causes by all of the angles seemingly pushing toward each other. Think about how you can use this very effective shape to lead the eye when planning your next composition.